Bibliotheca Arabica: The Past and Future of Arabic Bibliography (Lecture by Boris Liebrenz)

Boris Liebrenz, Saxon Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Leipzig 

Bibliotheca Arabica:  The Past and Future of Arabic Bibliography

In the 17th century, the need for a guide through the vast domains of Arabic literature, a "Bibliotheca Arabica," was voiced repeatedly among Europe’s Republic of Oriental Letters. One who took up the task was Johann Heinrich Hottinger. Based in Zurich, he was hopelessly removed from the necessary sources. Yet what he lacked in information, he made up with a methodology that was strikingly modern. Few dared to follow him down this path into one of the richest of the pre-modern literary traditions. Since great parts of it have remained in manuscript until today, taking stock of Arabic literary heritage and of its physical transmission through specific manuscript witnesses were often two sides of the same coin. Today, new technologies allow us to attempt a new Bibliotheca Arabica in ways that the printed page could not. This comes as scholars start to appreciate manuscripts not as necessary references but as social objects that have fascinating stories to tell. This presentation will show how to make these manuscripts, among them those in Columbia’s libraries, speak to us.

Tuesday, January 22, 6 pm

Butler Library, Room 203

To register, please visit:

Congratulations to Zeynep Çelik

Our affiliate, Zeynep Çelik was just announced as the recipient of the prestigious Giorgio Levi Della Vida Award, given to outstanding scholars whose work has significantly and lastingly advanced the study of Islamic civilization. 

"As the preeminent architectural historian and museum curator of the Middle East and North Africa, Zeynep Çelik has been selected for her extraordinary teaching and research along with her extensive publication record. The award carries with it a bronze medal and an invitation to present a formal keynote lecture as part of a conference held at UCLA CNES. The recipient of the award chooses the theme of the conference and selects the other participants. The conference proceedings are published in the Giorgio Levi Della Vida Series in Islamic Studies." 

Congratulations to Zeynep

Shari’a Scripts: A Historical Anthropology

Shari’a Scripts: A Historical Anthropology
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
4:15 PM  6:00 PM

Heyman Center for Humanities
2nd Floor Common Room
74 Morningside Drive
New York City, NY 10027

Celebrating new books in the Arts & Sciences at Columbia University, the Heyman Center for the Humanities will host a roundtable discussion on Professor Messick’s book, Shari’a Scripts: A Historical Anthropology.

Brinkley Messick, Columbia University
Intisar Rabb, Harvard Law School
Gil Anidjar, Columbia University
Mashal Saif, Clemson University
Guy Burak, New York University
Islam Dayeh, Freie Universitat Berlin
Mahmood Mamdani, Columbia University

A case study in the textual architecture of the venerable legal and ethical tradition at the center of the Islamic experience, Sharīʿa Scripts is a work of historical anthropology focused on Yemen in the early twentieth century. There—while colonial regimes, late Ottoman reformers, and early nationalists wrought decisive changes to the legal status of the sharīʿa, significantly narrowing its sphere of relevance—the Zaydī school of jurisprudence, rooted in highland Yemen for a millennium, still held sway.

Brinkley Messick uses the richly varied writings of the Yemeni past to offer a uniquely comprehensive view of the sharīʿa as a localized and lived phenomenon. Sharīʿa Scripts reads a wide spectrum of sources in search of a new historical-anthropological perspective on Islamic textual relations. Messick analyzes the sharīʿa as a local system of texts, distinguishing between theoretical or doctrinal juridical texts (or the “library”) and those produced by the sharīʿa courts and notarial writers (termed the “archive”). Attending to textual form, he closely examines representative books of madrasa instruction; formal opinion-giving by muftis and imams; the structure of court judgments; and the drafting of contracts. Messick’s intensive readings of texts are supplemented by retrospective ethnography and oral history based on extensive field research. Further, the book ventures a major methodological contribution by confronting anthropology’s longstanding reliance upon the observational and the colloquial. Presenting a new understanding of Islamic legal history, Sharīʿa Scripts is a groundbreaking examination of the interpretative range and historical insights offered by the anthropologist as reader.

Cosponsored by:
Ifriqiyya Colloquium
The Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
Office of the Divisional Deans in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
Department of Anthropology
Center for the Study of Muslim Societies

Shari’a Workshop: Leor Halevi

Shari’a Workshop
Thursday, November 29, 2018, 4:10-6:00PM
207 Knox Hall
606 W 122nd Street
New York, NY 10027

Join us for the next session of the Sharīʿa Workshop:

Leor Halevi (Vanderbilt) presents his paper, "Spirits of Islamic Law in the British Empire: Impurity, Modernity, and Alcohol in interwar Bombay and Cairo." Please arrive having read the paper and prepared to discuss. 

Comments by Aseel Najib (Columbia) and Ibrahim El Houdaiby (Columbia).

Imagining & Narrating Plague in the Ottoman World

Imagining & Narrating Plague in the Ottoman World
A conversation with Orhan Pamuk and Nükhet Varlık

Monday, November 12, 2018, 6:30PM
Joseph D. Jamail Lecture Hall, Pulitzer Hall, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
2950 Broadway, New York, NY 10027

This event is sponsored by The Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies, The Columbia University School of the Arts, The Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, and The Department of History.

“Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and award-winning plague historian Nükhet Varlık will have a conversation with historian A. Tunç Şen about how a novelist and a historian can imagine and recount past plagues. Pamuk and Varlık will share insights drawn from Ottoman plague episodes and discuss the challenges of relating these experiences in historical and fictional writing.

Orhan Pamuk is currently finishing his latest novel, Veba Geceleri, set on a plague-infested Ottoman island at the turn of the twentieth century. He is the Robert Yik-Fon Tam Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University's School of the Arts.

Nükhet Varlık is the author of multiple award-winning Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347-1600. She is an Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University-Newark.

A. Tunç Şen is a historian of the Ottoman Empire and an Assistant Professor of History at Columbia University.

Join us for a discussion and Q&A with the writers.

The Second-Hand Binding: Gallery talk by Matthew Gilman

“The Second-Hand Binding” 
Gallery talk by guest curator and CU graduate student Matthew Gilman
October 23, 2018, 6pm-9pm
Butler Library, Room 523

Reproduction technologies, from chromolithography to digitization, have long been heralded as boon as to scholarship in the arts of the book. Nevertheless, bookbinding, especially that from the Muslim world, has remained at the fringes of the field. This talk examines the historical circumstances (such early modern libraries, second-hand book markets, and Orientalist scholarship) which create difficulties for the study of the art. They also, however, will offer an opportunity to reconsider the nature of manuscript culture at large. 

Lecture in conjunction with the exhibition "In the School of Wisdom: Persian Bookbinding, ca. 1575-1890." Talk will be held in Butler 523, followed by a reception for the exhibition in the Kempner Gallery, Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Butler Library, 6th Floor, East). This event is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Muslim Societies.  

"In the School of Wisdom: Persian Bookbinding, ca. 1575-1890."   
Exhibit open 10/22/18–3/1/19
Chang Octagon Room, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Butler Library, 6th Floor, East. 
Free, handicapped accessible, and open to the general public.
Exhibit hours are the same as the RBML service hours.

You must have photo ID to enter the building. Please see Directions for more information.   

Celebrating Recent Work by Wael Hallaq

Celebrating Recent Work by Wael Hallaq
Wednesday, October 17, 2018  6:15PM
The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

Restating Orientalism: A Critique of Modern Knowledge, by Wael Hallaq
Since Edward Said’s foundational work, Orientalism has been singled out for critique as the quintessential example of Western intellectuals’ collaboration with oppression. Controversies over the imbrications of knowledge and power and the complicity of Orientalism in the larger project of colonialism have been waged among generations of scholars. But has Orientalism come to stand in for all of the sins of European modernity, at the cost of neglecting the complicity of the rest of the academic disciplines?

In this landmark theoretical investigation, Wael B. Hallaq reevaluates and deepens the critique of Orientalism in order to deploy it for rethinking the foundations of the modern project. Refusing to isolate or scapegoat Orientalism, Restating Orientalism extends the critique to other fields, from law, philosophy, and scientific inquiry to core ideas of academic thought such as sovereignty and the self. Hallaq traces their involvement in colonialism, mass annihilation, and systematic destruction of the natural world, interrogating and historicizing the set of causes that permitted modernity to wed knowledge to power. Restating Orientalism offers a bold rethinking of the theory of the author, the concept of sovereignty, and the place of the secular Western self in the modern project, reopening the problem of power and knowledge to an ethical critique and ultimately theorizing an exit from modernity’s predicaments. A remarkably ambitious attempt to overturn the foundations of a wide range of academic disciplines while also drawing on the best they have to offer, Restating Orientalism exposes the depth of academia’s lethal complicity in modern forms of capitalism, colonialism, and hegemonic power.

Author: Wael Hallaq, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities, MESAAS, Columbia University
Speakers: Mamadou Diouf, Leitner Family Professor of African Studies and History, Columbia University; Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University; Sudipta Kaviraj, Professor, Indian Politics and Intellectual History, Columbia University

Divine Words, Female Voices: Conversation and Book Launch with Dr. Jerusha Tanner Rhodes

Divine Words, Female Voices: Conversation and Book Launch with Dr. Jerusha Tanner Rhodes
September 26, 2018, 6:00 – 8:00PM
Union Theological Seminary, Social Hall

The relationship between Islam and feminism is complex. There are many Muslim scholars who fervently promote women’s equality. At the same time, there is ambivalence regarding the general norms, terminology, and approaches of feminism and feminist theology. This ambivalence is in large part a product of various hegemonic, androcentric, and patriarchal discourses that seek to dictate legitimate and authoritative interpretations. These discourses not only fuel ambivalence, they also effectively obscure valuable possibilities related to interreligious feminist engagement.

In this lecture, Dr. Rhodes will discuss her new book – Divine Words, Female Voices: Muslims Explorations in Comparative Feminist Theology (Oxford University Press, 2018) – which argues that interreligious feminist engagement is both a theologically valid endeavor and a vital resource for Muslim women scholars. She will discuss how comparative feminist theology leads to new, constructive Muslima and Islamic feminist positions on topics including revelation, scripture, feminist exemplars, theological anthropology, and ritual practice. 

Books will be available for purchase. ($40, Cash only)
Light refreshments will be served.

Jerusha T. Rhodes is Assistant Professor of Islam and Ministry at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Her research focuses on theologies of religious pluralism, comparative theology, and Muslima theology. She also serves at the Director of Union’s Islam, Social Justice, and Interreligious Engagement Program.

Open to Reason: Souleymane Bachir Diagne in conversation with Katherine Ewing, Nabeel Hamid, and Christia Mercer

Open to Reason: Muslim Philosophers in Conversation with the Western Tradition
Souleymane Bachir Diagne, in conversation with Katherine Ewing, Nabeel Hamid, and Christia Mercer
Thursday, September 20, 2018  6:00pm
Maison Française

What does it mean to be a Muslim philosopher, or to philosophize in Islam? In Open to Reason, Souleymane Bachir Diagne traces Muslims’ intellectual and spiritual history of examining and questioning beliefs and arguments to show how Islamic philosophy has always engaged critically with texts and ideas both inside and outside its tradition. Through a rich reading of classical and modern Muslim philosophers, Diagne explains the long history of philosophy in the Islamic world and its relevance to crucial issues of our own time.

From classical figures such as Avicenna to the twentieth-century Sufi master and teacher of tolerance Tierno Bokar Salif Tall, Diagne explores how Islamic thinkers have asked and answered such questions as, Does religion need philosophy? How can religion coexist with rationalism? What does it mean to interpret a religious narrative philosophically? What does it mean to be human and what are human beings’ responsibilities to nature? Is there such a thing as an “Islamic” state, or should Muslims reinvent political institutions that suit their own times? Diagne shows that philosophizing in Islam in its many forms throughout the centuries has meant a commitment to forward and open thinking. A remarkable history of philosophy in the Islamic world as well as a work of philosophy in its own right, this book seeks to contribute to the revival of a spirit of pluralism rooted in Muslim intellectual and spiritual traditions.

Author: Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Professor of French, Columbia University
Speakers: Katherine Ewing, Professor of Religion, Columbia University; Nabeel Hamid, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania; Christia Mercer, Gustave M. Berne Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University